Duhan van der Merwe on facing his brother, mental strain of World Cup and how Darcy Graham stole a march
Duhan van der Merwe’s brother Akker and some of his Bulls team-mates were among the spectators at Hive Stadium on Saturday night, part of an unofficial spying mission.
The South African team were keen to have a look at Edinburgh ahead of playing against them in the United Rugby Championship this Friday. They were doubtless impressed as Duhan embarked on a searing trademark run down the left wing. Taking the ball in his own half, he roared past what seemed like half the Connacht team before passing inside to Ben Vellacott who finished things off. It was a great try and, fortunately for the van der Merwe brothers, it happened early in the second half. Any later and Akker might have missed it. “They came up on Saturday morning after they played Cardiff so I saw him after the game but I think he left after 60 minutes as it was too cold!” explained Duhan.
It may have been a chilly evening at the Hive but there was plenty to warm the cockles for the Edinburgh fans as their team defeated Connacht 25-22 with a last-gasp drop goal from Ben Healy. The home supporters will be hoping for more of the same on Friday against the Bulls, a fixture that pits brother against brother. Akker van der Merwe, at 32, is the senior sibling but Duhan, four years his junior, got the upper hand when they last met. “It was a couple of years ago when Edinburgh played Sale Sharks in the Champions Cup. He was at Sale Sharks, so 1-0 to me,” smiled the Scotland winger.
Akker, who has three caps for South Africa, left Sale in the summer after four successful years. The hooker was a fans’ favourite at the club, earning the nickname of Raging Warthog for his rumbustious style, but he has settled in quickly at the Bulls, helping them to wins over Zebre and Cardiff on their European mini-tour after a loss to Ulster. He has also bagged three tries in four URC games this season which – whisper it – is three more than his brother, who is yet to get off the mark for Edinburgh since returning from the World Cup.
“He has scored a few tries,” acknowledged Duhan, grudgingly, “typical hooker tries off a maul, but he is enjoying it and if we play against each other it will be quite exciting. Hopefully he doesn’t come down my channel and hopefully I don’t go down his channel but if we have to get stuck into each other it is what it is.
“They have won two out of three of their away games and are top of the table which is really good but so were Connacht so this is another big challenge for us at the weekend playing against the Bulls. They are big physical men and we have to stop them and beat them.”
Duhan has two Edinburgh games under his belt this season and feels like he is getting into his stride after some post-World Cup recovery time. The tournament didn’t go as Scotland would have hoped and he admits the losses to South Africa and Ireland took their toll on him but he now feels re-energised and ready to continue the progress Edinburgh are making under new coach Sean Everitt.
“To be honest, I was buzzing to come back,” said Van der Merwe. “Initially, at the time when we lost against Ireland, I wasn’t in a great place and felt like I needed some time off. Physically, I felt very good; mentally, it was quite tough. I had a phone call with Sean and said, ‘look, is there any chance I can get some extra time off?’ and he managed to give me an extra week off. I’m very grateful for that and I feel really refreshed and ready to go for the season.”
Scotland failed to make it out of the group in France, their only two wins coming against Tonga and Romania. Van der Merwe notched a try in the 45-17 victory over the Tongans, his 21st for his country, which took him up sixth in the all-time Scotland list. The left winger was rested for the Romania game and had to watch from the sidelines as Darcy Graham bagged four tries in the 84-0 thumping to move on to 24, with only Stuart Hogg ahead of him on 27. The race to catch the recently retired full-back is very much on but Graham has stolen a march on his fellow winger.
“Gregor announced the team against Romania and my name was not in it,” recalled van der Merwe. “I just looked over and Darcy was sitting there with a smile on his face. I thought he could get four or five and I think he got four. He is well ahead of me now. I will have to score a few now for Scotland if selected in the Six Nations to get ahead of him but that is going to be tough because at the moment he is in form, unfortunately he is injured just now, but what a player he is.”
The Six Nations has been bountiful for van der Merwe, with nine of his tries coming in the Championship. None was more memorable than his stunning solo effort in the win over England at Twickenham in February and formal recognition came last month when it was voted International Men’s Try of the Year at the World Rugby Awards in Paris.
“I look back at it and I still can’t quite believe that I managed to score that,” said the winger who missed the ceremony. “Everyone’s been saying, ‘congrats, congrats’. All I can say is. ‘yeah, mate, it’s all luck!’ I’ll take it and I’m very happy with the award. If I can score one of those tries again I will be really happy.”
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